Children are more adept at picking up new languages than older types of humans. The reasons are varied, but the effect of this fact, the first time I encountered it, was singular: relief. At the time, I was supposed to be learning my own first foreign language, and now I had an explanation for why it was such a mighty struggle. I imagined my brain having hardened up like a walnut. I wasn’t too stupid; I was simply too old.
Of course, I now realize the problem wasn’t that I was too stupid or too old. I was fourteen! My brain was not a walnut! Most likely the issue was that the language I was trying to learn was Latin, and the place I was trying to learn it was a dinky public middle school in Tennessee. Mrs. Hughes, bless her heart, did her best. But here is the gist of what I gleaned from her tutelage: how to say “the girl is in the farmhouse” (puella est in villa) and how to say “I love you” (ego amo te).
I have no idea why I remember about the girl in the farmhouse. I know exactly why I remember how to say I love you. “Te” is pronounced like “tay,” you see — tay as in Tay, as in the nickname of Taylor Hanson, with whom I was very much in amo at the time.
Hanson was cool for maybe three weeks in late spring of 1997 and after that liking them was a major social liability, to say nothing of loving them. So my affections were almost entirely covert. (Offline, at least. Online, it was a different story, but… well, that’s another story.) I was a little zip-lipped sphinx when it came to my real-life crushes, this one doubly so, and I was thrilled when Latin provided me with this secret code. At school, I could scribble “Ego amo Tay!!!” in my notebooks and probably nobody would know what it meant and if they did I was happy to risk seeming like a bad speller. At home, I could scribble it in my journal and bask in the private glow of being not only in love but also so so smart.
One reason I was so private about my crushes, aside from fundamentally wishing to avoid the standard middle-school exploitations of vulnerability, was that I wanted to be known for my brain not my heart. But here’s what I was using that brain for. Not learning Latin, and not mastering pre-Algebra, and never, ever retaining whatever’s the problem with split infinitives. Instead, time has revealed that the deepest grooves I was etching into my (apparently still quite pliable) adolescent gray matter were ones that would forevermore would house such information as Taylor Hanson’s favorite color (red), Taylor Hanson’s favorite ice cream color (strawberry), what historical period Taylor Hanson would travel to if he had a time machine (Medieval Europe, though “it would suck to die of a cold”), and — most crucially — Taylor Hanson’s birthday.
At the time this all seemed like relevant information because I was low-key certain that one day Taylor and I would meet, fall in love, and get married. Like, it would be a while, obviously! First we’d have to reckon with our massive twenty-month age difference, and then he would have to make some more albums and go on some more tours, and I would have to finish middle school and high school and college, duh, blah blah blah. But it just seemed like something that was probably going to happen.
Even the people who knew I loved him didn’t necessarily know about this plan, such as it was. I was very aware that it sounded delusional. I watched too much VH-1 to not realize this. How many fans of teen idols decide they’re MFEO, and how many teen idols go off and marry comparably-famous people instead, leaving the normies to either ditch or pathetically carry their torch for all time? It was an absolute cliche.
And yet! It did happen. Not to me, but another girl. Three other girls, actually, because all three brothers married fans. Isaac and Zac did it late enough, in 2006, once everyone involved was squarely in their twenties, that it seemed almost normal, and by then I only cared out of old habit anyway. But Taylor did it in 2002. He was nineteen. She was eighteen. I wasn’t precisely in love with him anymore, but I was still well within the old crush’s blast radius. I was seventeen and it creeped me out. She was from Georgia, which might as well have been Tennessee. She had brown hair. Their first kid was born less than six months later. Their seventh kid was born in 2020.
I am grateful every day that I didn’t get what I wanted, at least not this time. The girl is in the farmhouse, and she is not me. And I am keenly aware, every single March 14, that I will be marking the date until I die.